"Spiritual maturity", by J. Oswald Sanders (book review)

I am always blessed in Reading the works of dead theologians. While brother Sanders only passed on to glory in 1992, yes his words remain helpful today.

This book is divided into three parts.  Part one is entitled, “The Overruling Providence of God”, and deals with the character of the first person of the Trinity: God the Father.  Part 2 is entitled, “The Supreme Vision of Christ”, and handles the second person of the Trinity: Jesus Christ. Finally, part 3 is entitled, “The Spirit - the Breath of God”, and obviously discusses the third person of the Trinity: the Holy Spirit.

Each part contains 7 stand-alone chapters, meaning one does not necessarily need to read chapter one in order to understand chapter 2 in order to understand chapter 3, etc. That point was clearly stated in the editor’s Forward, so I decided to read successive chapters from each of the three parts in numerical order. For example, after reading chapter one on the Father, I read chapter 8 on the Son, then chapter 15 on the Holy Spirit. Then I proceeded reading chapters 2, 9, and 16, until I finished the entire book in such a sequence.

I was truly blessed and challenged by numerous thoughts Sanders penned throughout the book, but the chapter that most profoundly influenced me and captured my mind was Chapter 3, “The Undiscouraged Perseverance of God”. In that chapter, brother Sanders detailed several nuances from Genesis 32 as it pertained to the God of Jacob.

Pay attention to these words of his, "The god of Jacob. No two characters seem more ill-matched. No single sentence more strikingly illustrates the undiscoverable perseverance of God."  As we know, Jacob was a schemer and a deceiver (not much unlike us, I might add), and yet brother Sanders does a marvelous job encouraging the reader in the gospel as we struggle with our own sinful flesh. He wrote, “The perseverance of the saints is possible only because of the perseverance of God." 

As I struggle in my own sin, I was encouraged my brother Sanders’ words, “[God] does not despair of us even when we despair of ourselves. His patience is never at an end. His resources are never exhausted.  Praise God!  Brother Sanders continues, “The devil preaches a message of despair...God is preaching the gospel of recovery. The God of Jacob is pre-eminently the god of the second chance to Christians who have failed and failed persistently.”

O brothers and sisters in Christ, what a truly glorious encouragement in the gospel this chapter and the entire book was! The Gospel of Jesus Christ is proclaimed from front to back, something that is so necessary in our regular reading.  Pick a copy of Spiritual Maturity up for yourself, and you will not be disappointed.

RATING: 5 stars.

DISCLAIMER: I received this book free of charge from Moody Publishers in exchange for my unbiased review of it. All opinions are mine, and I was not required to provide a positive review.


"Prayer: How Praying Together Shapes the Church", by John Onwuchekwa (book review)

Prayer: it's vital to the Christian life, yet is so often neglected.  This little book from the 9Marks series is an encouragement to the church, and applying brother Onwuchekwa’s suggestions would yield positive results.   For those who may be tempted to think they don’t need to read yet another book on prayer, please don’t be so quick to write this one off.  This book is not so much a “how-to”, but more of a call to corporate action, to put into practice what we so often put off.

In the early chapters, Onwuchekwa discusses what prayer is and what it is not.  His call to corporate action is warranted because, first, we are the body of Christ, not simply a collection of individuals.  But secondly, when we pray corporately, those who are more mature in faith can instruct those who are less mature in faith what biblical prayer entails.

Brother Onwuchekwa also encourages a revival of the apparently-forgotten “prayer meeting”.  He suggests praying corporately outside of the typical corporate gatherings on Sunday mornings.  He details the many perks to having these kinds of prayer meetings, namely that it can be more formational and instructional.

I did something different with this book.  Rather than make underlines, I took notes on it.  When I finished reading it, I scrolled by through my notes to re-read it all.  As I did, three points stood out (to me) above the rest.  (Disclaimer: others may find other points more crucial.

First, Onwuchekwa wrote, prayer is calling on God to come through on what He has promised.  This statement came in chapter 2 as he was discussing what prayer is and is not.  The reason; I found this statement to be so helpful is because we often get in a rut of praying for little things like Aunt Betty’s big toe, or my mother’s sister’s unlce’s brother’s cousin who is having a root canal, rather than praying for more urgent kingdom matters.  We know God cares deeply for Aunt Betty and that distant relative, but we also know that He is concerned more for the condition of our souls more than for our comforts.  When we pray what God has promised, we know we pray His will, AND it requires us to have and seek a deeper theological understanding of God’s word.

A second statement that punched me in the face was found in chapter 4, as he encouraged readers to pray for provision, pardon, and protection.  He wrote, To neglect a single day of praying for forgiveness suggests we are ok with God based on our performance.  I so often fall into the trap that even though I know my works don’t save me, I think my good behavior for a while after a fall makes me ok with God again.  It’s as if I think of God as a forgetful parent who threatens discipline in the family car on the way home from vacation, but then is assuaged when I help fold the laundry.  Not so with God.  Instead, even though we are in Christ by His completed work, I ought still be daily asking for God’s pardon....not a reducing the fines, not a delaying of the fines, but a complete pardon for my sinful offenses.

Third, and finally - also in chapter 4 - Onwuchekwa wrote, We run out of things to pray about when we pray vague prayers for vague people.  Here was his point: when we pray for each other, we ought to pray specifically about how God can strengthen brother Joe to live a holy life.  Instead of asking God to simply strengthen him, we ought to pray things like, “God, give Joe the strength to resist the allure of porn”, or “God, remind Sally to control her tongue next time she wants to lash out at her children”.

Rating:This has truly been a helpful book, and I plan to share it with my pastors and elders.  I give this one 5 out of 5 stars.

Disclaimer: I received this book free of charge from Crossway in exchange for my unbiased review of it.  All opinions are mine, and I was not required to provide a positive review of it.


"Resurrection Life in a World of Suffering", edited by D.A. Carson and Kathleen Nielson (book review)

This relatively brief book is essentially the reproduction of messages spoken at the 2016 Gospel Coalition Women’s Conference.  The speakers/authors were/are Kathleen Nielson, Jen Wilkin, Carrie Sandom, Mary Willson, D.A. Carson, and John Piper.  That said, you can find the audio of those plenary sessions here.  You may be interested in one, or the other, or both. For the sake of simplicity, I’ll refer in my review only to the book.

The topic of the book is Peter’s first epistle, and the authors provided an excellent, in-depth exposition of the Holy Spirit’s teaching through Peter on the purpose and value of suffering.

In the introduction, Juan Sanchez provided an extremely thorough explanation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  It was rather long for an introduction for my tastes.  Since it detailed the gospel so clearly, however, I’d prefer it be long and accurate, rather than short and unhelpful.

In chapter 1, “Born Again to a Living Hope”, Kathleen Nielson explains 1Pet 1:1-12 to help readers understand who we are in God’s eyes, that it is He who gives us our Identities.

In chapter 2, “Living Resurrection Life”, Jen Wilkin exposits 1Pet 1:13-2:3, reminding Christians in suffering to hope fully, be holy, fear rightly, and love earnestly.

In chapter 3, “Remember Who You Are”, Carrie Sandom digs into 1Pet 2:4-10 to remind us that Christians are God’s holy people, set apart for His glory, to resist evil and do good in Christ Jesus.

In chapter 4, “Following Jesus Far From Home”, Mary Willson launches out from 1Pet 2:11-3:12 to remind believers of our status that while we are seemingly far from home, we are never far from God.  Therefore, we have a distinct way of life that ought to follow from our identity in Christ.

In chapter 5, “Sharing Christ’s Sufferings, Showing His Glory”, D.A. Carson encourages readers through 1Pet 3:13-4:19 that just as Noah and his family were saved through water (not from water), so too, we must endure sufferings as opportunities to show the glory of God.

In chapter 6, “A Shepherd and a Lion”, John Piper teaches from 1Pet 5:1-14 that this Christian life of suffering, reflecting the glory of God, and pressing on to resist the roaring lion will never make sense to the world’s sensibilities.

I was most helped by this last chapter, wherein John Piper asked (and helped answer) the question, “Is the Devil really in charge of suffering?”  Piper lays out clearly that although the Devil roars in fury against God’s people, he does so only because he’s given permission to do so by our sovereign God.  If all suffering and testing is permitted/intended by God to refine His people like the flames refine gold, so too, the Devil roars violently because he knows that his roaring is only proving to refine the people of God…the very people he hates and seeks to destroy!  I find great hope and joy in knowing that God is sovereign, even over my suffering and trials. 

RATING: I give this book 5 stars, as it is gospel-driven and useful for teaching and encouragement.

DISCLAIMER: I received this book free of charge from Crossway in exchange for my unbiased review of it.  All opinions are mine, and I was not required to provide a positive review.


"The Essential Jonathan Edwards", by Owen Strachan and Douglas A. Sweeney (book review)

"The Essential Jonathan Edwards", by Owen Strachan and Douglas A. Sweeney, was a considerably worthwhile read!  It is as thick mentally as it is physically (448 pages).  Therefore, much is covered in this book that requires a considerable amount of thought, but you will be blessed in doing so.

Basically, the book is laid out in such a way that the authors focus on a general category in each chapter. Their discussion is built around an analysis of Edwards’ sermons and/or essays.  Helpfully, the authors brilliantly reflect at the end of each chapter on how Jonathan Edwards’ position or circumstance (as discussed in the chapter) could influence our lives today. This, quite honestly, was probably my most favorite aspect of the book.   They did not neglect to discuss how we might think about particular topics today.  

Interestingly, I suppose there are three different ways someone could read through this book.

First, and most obvious, is reading it cover to cover in the order presented. This is obviously a heavy undertaking, but certainly proves helpful.  However, with so much information, much could be forgotten by the time the reader reaches the last pages.

A second approach could be reading just the numerous excerpts from Jonathan Edwards’ sermons and essays alone, without reading Strachan’s and Sweeney’s conclusions, discussions, or commentaries.  The reader could undertake sifting through Edwards’ challenging wording, and grow as a result.

A third reading approach could be to skip all of Edwards’ excerpts, and read just the authors’ commentaries.  They did such a fine job clarifying Edwards’ meanings, as 1700’s language is considerably different from modern English.  Therefore, without even reading his own words , one could still learn from Edwards through those who have taken great care in studying his life and teaching.

One chapter that piqued my interest pertained to Edwards’ view of the trinity. While his approach appeared problematic to me on a few levels, I gave this singular chapter more consideration than the others, as I sought out Edwards’ previous writings on the trinity, as well as writings of those who dissent with his view.  This highlights another positive aspect of this book.  The authors did a fine job citing each sermon and essay so you – the reader – could search out their full contexts yourself.

If you are a Jonathan Edwards aficionado, then this book would probably be a good purchase for you.  I don't consider it a “must-have” book for everyone, but I think anyone who reads it will be challenged, encouraged, and blessed by it. That said, I give this title five stars

Disclaimer:  I received this book free of charge from Moody Publishers in exchange for my unbiased review of it.  All opinions are mine, and I was not required to provide a positive review.


"ESV Archeology Study Bible" (book review)

I’ve spent a considerable amount of time rifling through and perusing the various options of this Archeology Study Bible.  So, now it’s time to provide information to you regarding what it contains.

First: The version I am reviewing was the English Standard Version (ESV).  The purpose of this review is not to detail the reliability or pro’s and con’s of the ESV, but to detail some of the features the editors have included in it to make it an Archeology Study Bible.

Second: While most study bibles contain interpretive assistance based on a particular approach to theology, this study bible takes its approach from – obviously – an archeological standpoint.  The editors provide several insights pertaining to the origins and even some similarities of other ancient, non-biblical writings.  These commentaries aren’t intended, I don’t believe, to give “authority” to those writings, but to show some similarities among the world’s religions.

For example, found in Proverbs 22:17-24:22 is a comment titled, “the words of the wise.”  This commentary references the “thirty sayings” of Solomon.  The commentary provides a reference to the Egyptian Instruction of Amenemope, which appears very similar.  But the cross reference doesn’t stop there, but I also found it over in Psalm 1:3 “He is like a tree.”  Once again, a reference to Amenemope appears.

Obviously, this piqued my interest, as I’m certain it will others.  Examples like these two may inspire others with a history-buff kind of mind to dig deeper into ancient writings.

Third: Color pictures abound!  Often short articles pertaining to a particular archeological find appears, and near it are pictures to assist your mind’s eye.

Fourth: Intertestamental Events Timeline.  Tucked nicely between the Old and New Testaments, the editors have provided a brief, yet helpful, timeline of events that occurred during the intertestamental period of time.  Names like “Alexander the Great” and “Epicurious” will likely ring a bell with most readers.  This timeline helps readers place the biblical timeline in context with world history.

Fifth: Cultural points to ponder.  Randomly throughout this study bible are brief histories of cultural norms, such as what divorce and the temple tax looked like in the 1st Century.  These are helpful, in that they provide background from the original authors’ and readers’ points of view, rather than from the 21st Century.

RATING: Overall, I like the A.S.B., and I give it 4 stars.  It will not be my primary bible for regular use, but it will certainly supplement my studies.

DISCLAIMER: I received this bible from Crossway free of charge in exchange for my unbiased review of it.  All opinions are mine, and I was not required to provide a positive review of it.


“High King of Heaven”, edited by Dr. John MacArthur (book review)

High King of Heaven”, edited by Dr. John MacArthur, digs deep into the person and work of Jesus Christ – otherwise known as Christology.  It is comprised of 4 parts, which are subdivided into 23 chapters, each written by a different author.

Part 1 covers the person of Jesus Christ, while Part 2 handles the work of Jesus Christ. Part 3 addresses the word of Jesus Christ, and part 4 concludes the book with the witness to Jesus Christ.

Several chapters were highly insightful, but the chapters that were most beneficial to my soul at the time of reading were Chapter 6, “The Good Shepherd”, written by Steven J. Lawson, and Chapter 23, “Do You Love Me”, written by John MacArthur. I'm certain I could re-read the book in a handful of months again and find other chapters to be beneficial.  It just so happens that these two chapters dealt with topics that I have been personally dealing with lately.

Given that the book is a Christological one, I am somewhat intrigued why two particular chapters – 20 and 21, written by Albert Mohler and Paul Washer, titled, “Salt and Light” and “Counted Worthy”, respectively – were included.   These were no doubt excellent chapters pertaining to believers’ witness in society and the believers’ persecution, but the whole of the book is a study about Jesus, not about the believer.

I know a fine line exists between the two, as we cannot discuss the Christian without also discussing Christ. But we can discuss the person, work, word, and witness to Christ without referring to Christians. The Bible has a lot to say about those four categories of Christology, and as I understand Christology, we want to study about him based on what the word of God teaches us, not based on its effect on man. That said, those were, indeed, two great chapters, but it seemed like they were slightly out of place. Maybe they should have been in the appendix instead.

All in all, I give “High King of Heaven” five stars out of five, and think it would be a good addition to any avid reader’s Library, right next to some other theological commentaries and systematic theology volumes.

Disclaimer: I received this book free of charge from Moody publishers in exchange for my unbiased review of it. All opinions are mine, and I was not forced to provide a positive review.


“Word-Centered Church”, by Jonathan Leeman (book review)

“Word-Centered Church”, one of many excellent resources in the 9Marks line of books, is a worthwhile title to add to one’s bookshelf.  In fact, some readers may already have this one under its previously-released title, “Reverberation”, from 2011.  I didn’t read the first edition, so I can’t speak to what has been changed, but can speak of the book on its present merits.

As the title so aptly suggests, Mr. Leeman’s intent is to inspire pastors, teachers, and members alike that the Bible – God’s Word – must be the center of our worship, for it is the Word of God that creates His people, gathers His people, sanctifies His people, and sends His people.  It is divided into three parts – Part 1: The Word (Acts; Invites and Divides; Frees; Gathers), Part 2: The Sermon (Exposes, Announces, Confronts), and Part 3: The Church (Sings, Prays, Disciples, Scatters and Once Again Gathers).

Jonathan Leeman unashamedly makes the case that Christian gatherings must absolutely be distinct from the world, for God’s Word is different from that of the world.  God’s Word reveals to us that God that God is holy, that we are sinners, that God’s wrath over sin looms over sinners, that we need a Savior, that Jesus Christ is that one-and-only Savior, and that we will all face God’s judgment – either with or without Jesus as our Substitute.

This book is full of helpful insight for not only pastors/elders, but also for small/community group leaders and church members alike. 

For pastors, it will serve as a solid reminder that leaning on worldly church growth models is a hopeless endeavor.  While numbers may increase for a season, what will personal growth be built upon, new programs, cool music, merely motivational sermons? 

For community group leaders (and this hit home with me), this book is a strong reminder that we Christians are brought together by the Word of God, and we gather corporately and in small groups under the Word of God.  Like the pastors, community group leaders should be focused on reminding members of the group of the gospel, of the hope we have, and of the joy of sins forgiven.  It reminds us to pray God’s word together.

Finally, for the church and community group member, this book helps establish a strong foundation that we ought to be looking for God’s Word in our large and small gatherings, and that our worship and daily lives must be centered on His Word.  To expect new programs, cool music, or merely motivational speeches misses the mark of the true gospel of Jesus Christ.  We are not saved by or for the next greatest song; we are saved only by the life-giving gospel of Jesus Christ, and the gospel is revealed to us in God’s Word!

In other words, the Word must be the center of all we do as disciples of Jesus Christ.

Rating: I give “Word-Centered Church” 5 out of 5 stars.  It contains both rich theology AND practical application to daily living.

Disclaimer: I received this book free of charge from MP News Room (Moody Publishers) in exchange for my unbiased review of it.  All opinions are mine, and I was not required to provide a positive review of it.

Jonathan Leeman